One of Texoma’s finest athletes, ‘gentle giant’ Thomas O’ Kelley, loses battle with cancer
Cameron University and the Texoma area have lost one of their finest athletes.
Thomas O’ Kelley, the gentle giant who dominated opponents during Cameron’s 1986 and ’87 football seasons, lost his four-year battle with esophageal cancer Monday. A memorial service was held Friday in Groesbeck, Texas, where he taught and coached.
He is survived by his wife, the former Lisa Howell of Cache, and children Brittany, Kathleen and John.
Thomas met Lisa at Cameron.
A Burkburnett native, O’Kelley played on the defensive line for the Aggies in the 1984-87 seasons and started 44 consecutive games. Cameron finished runner-up in the NAIA playoffs in ’86, then won the National title in ’87.
O’Kelley earned All-Conference honors three times and was twice an NAIA All-American. He capped his career by being selected as 1987’s National Defensive Player of the Year.
O’Kelley was credited with 99 tackles, two fumble recoveries and two passes broken up as a junior. His numbers as a senior were 57, including seven for loss, six sacks, two fumble recoveries and nine PBUs.
Not bad considering opponents seldom ran a play in his direction.
The 6-6 tackle also was named to the Small College All-Century team of Oklahoma.
In 2009, he was elected to the second class of the CU Athletics Hall of Fame.
He holds the record for shortest acceptance speech. Humbled by the honor, O’Kelley acknowledged his coaches and teammates, thanked committee members and returned to his seat.